September 17, 2014

Psalm 146 (145)
Alleluia; of Haggai and Zechariah

1 Praise the Lord, O my soul.
2 I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have being.
3 Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men in whom there is no salvation.
4 When his breath departs he returns to his earth; on that very day his plans perish.
5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God.
6 Who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them.
Who keeps His faith forever,
7 Who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry.
8 The Lord sets the prisoners free, the Lord opens the eyes of the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the sojourners, He upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked He will bring to ruin.
10 The Lord will reign forever, thy God O Zion, to all generations.

“Who made heaven and earth…”
”...the sea, and all that is in them.”

The ancient Greek Septuagint (LXX) version of Psalm 146/145 is given above because this is what is sung as the Second Antiphon in many Orthodox churches during the Divine Liturgy on most Sundays (others sing Psalm 92/93). It is a prayer that focuses our attention on God as our savior, helper and hope—not on “princes and sons of men.”

This and all the remaining psalms are hymns of praise beginning with Alleluia, Praise the Lord. The next two psalms in their LXX version also share the same inscription as Psalm 146: “of Haggai and Zechariah.” This itself is instructive, because both these prophets were active after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile and were instrumental in motivating the people to rebuild the temple. They also pointed people to look beyond earthly powers and rulers to God Himself as their Savior.

Haggai was especially disturbed that the people returning from exile were all busy “each with his own house”, rather than rebuilding God’s temple. They kept putting off God’s work to attend to their own. They kept saying, “It isn’t time yet to rebuild the temple.” And God—speaking through Haggai—was now calling them out.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: This people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?... My house that lies in ruins, while you busy yourselves each with his own house.”

As God says through Zechariah, “My anger is hot against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders.” He promises that one day, He Himself will come to deliver His people, and not only Israel, but all the people of the earth. “On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem…And the Lord will become king over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be one and his name one.”

In the Divine Liturgy we have more than one reminder that for all the human vanity and power strutting through the world and on display too in church life, we bow down “not before flesh and blood” but before God. At the prayer of the bowing of the heads, before communion, the priest prays:

We thank you, King invisible, who by your boundless power created all things, in the abundance of your mercy bringing them into being out of nothing. Do you yourself, Master, look down from heaven on those who have bowed their heads to you; for they have bowed not to flesh and blood, but to you, the God before whom we stand in awe. Make smooth, then, our path for our good, Master, through what lies before us, according to the need of each: sail with those who sail, journey with those who journey, heal the sick, for you are the physician of our souls and bodies.

The Orthodox Church has evolved a finely balanced hierarchical and conciliar structure that brings together the leadership and voices of bishops, clergy and laity. But it is salutary to remember that we look beyond all of this to God and to to His holy will.

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Here is a rendition of the Second Antiphon, Psalm 145/146 sung in Byzantine chant,

Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops

Assembly Bishops
The Assembly of Bishops, Dallas
Photo credits: Dimitrios Panagos/GOA

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, and the members of the OCA’s Synod of bishops are participating in the important annual meeting of the Assembly of Bishops in Dallas. Please pray for them as they deliberate about the future direction of the Orthodox Church in North America and its witness to Christ, and not just among people of traditionally Orthodox cultural backgrounds. There are many millions of people who have never known or have given up on Christ and Christianity who might stop and consider if they could encounter the Christ we have come to know in the Orthodox Church.